It’s Sunday evening, and once again, the weekend is gone just as I got used to it being here.

I look forward to the weekends, just like all of the other adults out there. Most of them. Some of you are weird.

The weekends are a chance to do things I don’t normally do when responsibilities and duties take over my time; a relief from the ordinary structure of my work week.

The days of my week are planned out, and go by thusly:

-Monday: Well, here I go again.

-Tuesday: at least it’s not Monday

-Wednesday: Middle of the week, it’s downhill from here.

-Thursday: Almost Friday.

-Friday: will this day ever end?

Finally, Friday evening arrives, and I’m home once more, my favorite place in the world. I get to stay up a little later, sleep in a little later (if the cat allows), and spend my time how I want.

I do some house work Saturday mornings, so that my afternoons are free. I’ll play on my computer, watch a movie in the evening, go to bed early then stay up late reading news articles.

Sunday morning is when we get groceries, then I’ll play on my computer for awhile again, do some preparation for my lunches during the week, get together with friends in the evening to watch some tv or play board games, and then home to dread the coming of Monday morning once again.

I suppose it sounds tranquil.

A lot of my time, however, is spent thinking of all the things I should be doing, and how much time is spent not doing them – I should write more. My bookshelves need alphabetized. And dusted. So does my CD collection.

I still have some boxes that I haven’t unpacked, and we moved in almost four years ago. I haven’t shuffled them around recently to make it look like I’ve done something with them.

There’s a pile of papers in the corner that I’ve been meaning to sort through and file before the cat wees on them. I bought some painting supplies three years ago that I’ve been meaning to do something with.

And the weekend goes by so fast, doesn’t it?

There’s barely enough time to think about what I should be doing with the time there is, and each weekend goes by just a little more quickly. Which accumulates a little more the older I get, until it takes half the time to get through a weekend than it did just a decade ago!

Even the weekdays pass faster as well, which is somewhat frightening. The weekends I long for arrive just a little quicker as well, week in, year in, etc., etc.

It’s not going to slow down anytime soon, either, if experience is a reliable indicator (which it tends to be.)

The more I worry about how to make the best use of my time the more worried I get that I’m not using it right, and there’s something better I should be doing, and there’s so many better things I should be doing that I worry that one of them is more better than the rest and there’s too much better to choose from that I end up not choosing anything at all.

And the weekend is wasted again.

I need to be more cautious with my time, I suppose- learn to measure it in tangible results instead of the more nebulous- one book read, instead of x amount of hours in a computer game. One painting created, instead of x number of minutes spent thinking it looks awful.

(Not much I can do about x number of minutes spent in line at the grocery store. Annoyingly.)

I’ve heard time should be measured in moments, and experiences, and maybe a more accurate measure of time then is by the quality of those moments and experiences. While I do have enjoyable memories of time spent in fantastical computer environments, I also have enjoyable memories of petting the cats. And when I pet the cat, it’s a two-for-one special on memories for both of us, so I don’t mind at all considering it usually comes about while I’m on the computer and they’re interrupting me anyway.

I just want more time for the cats and the computers and the paintings and the books and the papers in the corner that now need thrown away. I’m trying to hold onto and spend wisely what no one before me has ever been able to do any better; it’s always finite.

It was easier when I was a kid. Time took so much longer then.

Maybe if I’d known what the trade off was, I wouldn’t have rushed to become an adult.

There’s a not a single person reading this who does not understand my concern, no matter how much better they are at spending their time than I am. I guess I don’t even think I’m necessarily misspending my time; I just want more to show for it.

I just want more. Who doesn’t?

There’s a saying: the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

20 years ago was the best time to start spending my time as wisely as possible.

The second best time is now.

So I’m going to end this column a little sooner than usual, and spend some extra time with the cats for a bit; their time is even more finite than my own..

Which doesn’t seem to bother them. Maybe we shouldn’t let it bother us so much, either.

Maybe worrying about it is the real waste of time, all along.

 

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It’s my favorite time of the year, once again.

Yes, I’m saying that with all the sarcasm I can muster.

I don’t hate the holidays. What I hate is not being allowed to ignore the holidays.

Every year, the reminders that CHRISTMAS IS COMING! begin a little earlier. Sales that used to be touted as “Christmas in July” now simply begin as early Christmas sales … in July.

(I don’t believe there is a War on Christmas, but if there is, every year Christmas gets its opening assault in a little earlier.)

Still, even that is essentially ignorable, even as the commercial forwardness increases as Thanksgiving approaches, peaking as ever on “Black Friday” before settling into a month of daily reminders of the remaining shopping days before Christmas, with one blissful day of silence on December 25th before returning, zombie-like, as “After-Christmas Sales!” leading up to January 1st, when the themetatic tide changes to sales celebrating the arrival of the New Year.

Annoying, but again, I can tune them out for the most part (even the insipid TV ads, to which the life of the most festive, Christmas-cheer-saturated, eggnog-drenched holiday exuberant existentialist fails in comparison to the over-the-top holiday expressionism placed on  display.)

(Tune them out; yes. Hate them; overwhelmingly yes.)

However, what I’m not able to escape is the omnipresent, ever-intrusive Christmas carol.

At some point in the fall, they start to creep out and begin to be heard, like frogs emerging from hibernation; jarring, like the sudden snore of an untreated apneac. I’ll be listening to the radio on the way to work, or casually choosing my week’s worth of what I convince myself is healthy food at the grocery store, when without warning … the sounds of jingle bells will be heard.

While I’m usually not in a position to take a measurement to verify, I’m certain this causes an alarming spike in my blood pressure.

As autumn progresses, the carols become more and more common, although many times the deluge doesn’t truly begin until the day after Thanksgiving, which makes sense, as there are no longer reasons for thanks to be given once an endless repetition of songs about Santa and snow and trees takes over the airwaves.

(One radio station local to me proudly begins playing Christmas carols on October 1st, excitedly reminding listeners that it’s carols 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all the way until Christmas day!)

(Coincidentally, October 1st is also the day I reprogram my radio presets to exclude that station.)

Maybe I wouldn’t hate carols so much if there were more than five. Really, that’s all there seem to be- the same five carols that have been recorded and re-recorded again, and again, and again.

Sometimes, I can hear the same carol three times in a row, done by a different group.

Really though, I can’t blame the artists. Recording a Christmas Carol is a sure-fire way to have a song in heavy rotation every single year. Forever.

But it seems to be so … repetitive. Which I realize is a function of rotation, but still.

I’ve already heard “Silent Night” uncountable times this year. Ironic, really, because that’s just what I’d like to have.

Occasionally, a group will come out with a new song. Sometimes, this song even manages to be popular. Usually because the befuddled masses become entranced by this shiny new addition to the Rudolphs and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (probably the carol I hate the most. Seriously – what exactly is a “new old-fashioned way”? That’s just illogical.) Like them or not, they’re now here to stay.

But for every “Last Christmas”, there’s 30 versions of “White Christmas”. “Christmas Wrappings” begets five more versions of “Blue Christmas” with each play (I looked up the number of versions, and lost count around 46). I’m sure both the white and blue songs were created because neither Irving Berlin nor Billy Hayes could stomach hearing “Winter Wonderland” one more time.

Even “Rudolph” and the despised “Rockin’” were new once.

(Just how a 13-year-old Brenda Lee managed to sound like a 65-year-old whiskey-soaked spinster with a three-pack-a-day habit may forever be a mystery. At the very least, it’s probably the most unusual of Christmas miracles.)

I was even there in the early 80s when Elmo & Patsy released the zeitgeistenal “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” to the world, annoying grandmothers and nearly everyone else for nigh unto 40 years and the unforeseeable future.

(I actually rather like that one. The original, deadpan version; not the dreadful slapstick re-recording that came out soon after.)

(Then again, I can count the number of carols I really like on one hand. Even if I lost a finger. Or hand.)

I’ll grant that the dearth of new carols may be caused more by limitation than lack of creativity- there’re only so many permutations of combinations of the words Christmas, Snow, Night, Santa, or … well, that’s about all there is, really.

So what’s a Christmas Curmudgeon to do? I’ve already determined there’s no escape, and even if I were to embrace the holidays; fully, unequivocally, wholeheartedly embrace them, I’ll never be able to achieve the ideals represented in your average Christmas jewelry commercial.

I’m an adult, and as such, I am perfectly capable of divining a way to handle these months of musical torture; one that does not require driving in silence or avoiding groceries until January 2nd.

I’ll start by making a large batch of cookie dough. But not cookies- no, just the dough will be enough.

Then, I’ll sit there, in my darkened living room, sullenly eating spoons of cookie dough while watching the burnt-out yule log channel on TV. Muted, of course.

And I’ll stay there, silently, until the cookie dough is gone and I can face the world’s festivities once again.

(I have it on good authority from people I pay to listen to me that this is an acceptable and not uncommon activity.)

If there is a war on Christmas, I’m convinced it was started by Christmas as an excuse to beat everything else up and prove how tough it is.

So I’ll remain, ‘til the night before Christmas, when all through the house, nothing will be stirring, except me – another batch of sugar cookie dough.

Only six more shopping days to go.

I have something to admit.

I may have a problem.

This is … this is difficult. But as the saying goes, admitting I have a problem is the first step towards recovery.

So here is my story.

It started a number of years ago; maybe eight, maybe ten, at the corner Loaf & Jug convenience store. I’d stopped by late in the evening on my way to work the night shift, looking for something to help me stay awake. I watched as another man glanced around surreptitiously before pulling out his money for his furtive purchase.

Oh, I was familiar with what he was buying. But I never thought I’d try it myself, mainly because of the bad things I’d heard and how awful some people believed it to be.

Seeing this stranger, with his shaking hands and euphoric contentment, struck a chord in me, a longing for something new, different, and a little bit rebellious and experimental for a guy such as myself.

So I did it. I bought my own, the most I could get (it was going to be a long night). Minutes later, in my car parked on the shadowy side of the lot, where no-one could see, I finally tried it myself.

Instantly, I knew why the other man looked so happy, as I felt the warm contentedness spreading through me myself. That night, as I worked, I continued taking it in small doses, wanting it to last, wanting that warmth and the feel and the taste to never end.

That began the descent into what many will call an addiction.

That was my very first pumpkin spice latte.

I know many will scoff at this revelation, not seeing it as a real addiction, but each fall, it seems I just can’t get enough of this particular flavor combination. A combination that, while marked with pictures of pumpkin pie and whipped cream, does not particularly taste like its namesake – no significant amount of pumpkin, but hints of cinnamon and nutmeg and crushed fall leaves and brisk chilled breeze and maybe just a subtle undertone of woodsmoke to tie it all together, it’s like autumn on the tongue for me.

People seem to fall into two distinct categories, dividing our nation even more greatly than any of the current political battlefields: either loving pumpkin spice in all its various permutations, or detesting even the most subtle trace or glimpsed sight they may experience.

And so I call them out: this time of year is not for you. This is the time for me, and my spice-loving brethren.

Luckily, there’s plenty out there to satisfy my craving, and each year around September, old products being rolled out are greeted with new products released for the first time, seeking to cash in on the popularity fueled by my and others stomachly obsession.

Each year, however, I seem to get a little bit more out of hand.

What started with pumpkin spice lattes carried over to pumpkin spice flavored coffee creamer. Thanks not only is my go-to spice fix, but is also usually the first to show up on the grocery store shelves, telling me that the time is at hand for the pumpkin spice goodness to begin its march onto the aisles of the supermarket and then from there into the deepest, darkest depths of my hungry, hungry maw.

Inevitably, pumpkin spice snack cakes make themselves available. I try to hold back, limiting myself to just one type per week. Currently, I’m enjoying sponge cakes with pumpkin spice flavored creme filling. Last week, it was pumpkin spice cake rolls. Maybe next week, it will be sandwich cookies.

All I know is I want to try as many varieties as I can before they disappear once again.

For breakfast today, I thoroughly enjoyed pumpkin spice pancakes. I also know there are pumpkin spice chocolates and candy corn out there, somewhere, just waiting for me to find. Probably lurking near the pumpkin spice breakfast cereals. But it doesn’t end there: I have pumpkin spice air freshener in my bathroom, so I can indulge both coming and going.

Each year, I search the internet for lists of new, seasonal pumpkin spice products. Mae West famously stated, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful!”

Why should I doubt her wisdom?

So I’ll stock my pantry with pumpkin spice bagels and bread, as well as the pumpkin spice granola bars the internet tells me are out there this year. Apparently there is pumpkin spice ice cream to indulge in as well. And if I start feeling sickly, pumpkin spice cough drops may come to my rescue; my orange-hued, ginger-powdered hero.

There’s pumpkin spice cinnamon rolls (that probably didn’t take a lot of work to come up with) and pumpkin spice yoghurt. Really, if you can imagine it, it’s probably out there, and flavored like fall.

(I’m probably going to need to find some pumpkin spice antacids.)

I’m going to keep an out for the pumpkin spice lip balm I’ve seen mentioned, and I’ve heard there’s flavored vodka out there as well. (I wonder if I can find it in rum? What incredible eggnog that would make! Especially if it’s pumpkin spice flavored eggnog!)

(Which is a thing.)

Pumpkin spice marshmallows are on my list, for sweet potatoes or hot chocolate or for a solitaire game of chubby bunny behind closed doors.

(Surprising no one, I’m sure. I’m trying to tackle one issue at a time.)

If I can track down the pumpkin spice scented bleach, it’s going in my cart. While I haven’t heard of it (yet), I’m hoping to find like-scented fabric softener or dryer sheets.

(Smelling that much like food, however, may be borderline insensitive. To my own stomach!)

Addiction aside, I’ve seen mention of a few products that cross even my own lines of taste. I really can’t see myself using pumpkin spice deodorant, for instance.

So maybe I’m not a lost cause. Maybe … maybe there’s hope for me still …

Because the pumpkin spice bologna is absolutely out of the question.

Sorry, Miss West.

There just has to be a limit.

Some days, I think I’m the best driver on the road.

Most days, I’m sure of it. Everyone drives worse than me.

Of course, nearly anyone randomly asked probably answers the same. Those who do not, do not actually drive.

It’s a logical fallacy because everyone cannot be the best driver in the world. (Although at least one person will be correct.)

It’s too bad it’s not true; driving would be a lot less messy and miserable.

Each of us has reason to believe we’re the best on the road. We’ve all seen the issues with others when we drive. Turn signals that are not used. Right of ways ignored. Laws of physics challenged.

Interestingly enough, ask any person where the worst drivers are, and they will invariably answer with their own location. Another logical fallacy (although once again one answer will be correct.) Usually, it seems the better of a driver a person thinks they are, the worse they’ll say the other drivers are in their area.

(With that being said …)

The drivers in my city are awful.

While driving, anyone I see doing something wrong on the road is automatically an idiot driver. (If I were to do the same thing, it’s simply a one-time mistake, of course.) However, those who show repeated mistakes in quick progression certainly don’t do themselves any favors.

It can be argued, I suppose, that these people are actually very good drivers – I mean, look at them. Look at the mistakes they make, not using their blinker. Look at the risks they take, weaving in and out of traffic. Look at how fast they go, ignoring the posted speed limit. Look … just look at them as they insert their contact lenses.

Yet, somehow, they remain in control of their vehicles. (Stop looking now; it’s getting more and more terrifying.)

I’ll admit to a grudging amount of respect for these drivers, although I don’t like them, nor do I want to be like them. I certainly don’t like the anger they cause me. I blame my high blood pressure on other people in cars. Each time I narrowly avoid yet another accident, I can just feel those systolic/diastolic numbers ticking upwards. And I doubt I’m the only one.

But really, is it that they’re excellent drivers avoiding the accidents that would befall others, or is it that the wheeled herd they travel with has enough better drivers to make up for the willful ignoring of common vehicle operation safety laws by these nefarious individuals?

No matter how good of a driver you believe yourself to be, I’m sure we can all agree some activities while driving are simply inexcusable. The cupholder is not for martinis, for instance. This really began to be frowned upon during the 70s, probably because the high alcohol content of a spilled drink was dangerously able to melt polyester on contact.

Additionally, while I don’t think eating behind the wheel should be regulated as heavily, using both hands to do so really crosses a line. Especially if the vehicle has a manual transmission.

Furthermore, the vanity mirror should not be used while driving to apply makeup or shave. I’m fairly certain most modern vehicles warn against these activities right there beside the mirror. One day, I’m sure the cover to the mirror will lock in place when the vehicle is in motion.

(Actually, that’s a pretty good idea. I hope a vehicle designer happens to be reading this.)

I suspect you believe I’m exaggerating, but I’ve witnessed each of these, sometimes more than once.

Some I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve borne witness.

(To save space, let’s not even get into a discussion on the use of cellphones.)

It could be there’s a sweet spot in age, a span of years where one not only thinks they’re a good driver, but actually are demonstrably, reasonably capable. Somewhere between the five years after a license is first achieved, and the age of leaving the turn signal on for 50 miles without realizing it, there’s the top of the bell curve we all try to reach and surpass.

(There’s an insurance agent reading this who knows exactly what I’m talking about, and probably has the answer right off the top of their head.)

Like I wrote earlier, I’ve made my own “mistakes” while driving. Looking at them objectively, it’s probably time to admit I’m getting close to the end of my own perfect driving sweet-spot.

My first major accident happened when I was 20; I turned in front of a vehicle I didn’t see and totalled the car I was driving.

My second major accident happened a few years ago when I drove through an intersection (with a green light!) and my vehicle was totalled by the police car I pulled into the path of when I didn’t see it.

The first one was my fault, I freely admit. The second was not. Even so, I’ve begun to find myself making a conscious effort to check to see if my turn signal is still flashing, or that the gasoline hose was put back before I leave the station, or that my coat isn’t closed in the bottom of the door. Again.

(I think I’ll stop now before this somehow gets back to my insurance agent and my rates increase.)

I’m astonished by the things I see other drivers get away with on a daily basis. How can anyone think it’s a good idea to pass on the right on a one-lane on ramp? Why has the yellow light become the universal symbol for drivers to increase their speeds? When was the class held that so many people missed that taught that the right-turn-only lane at a light is not there to suddenly accelerate ahead of everyone and cut into the main line of traffic going through the intersection?

To revisit the idea that I live in the city with the worst drivers – it’s not that I think these things don’t happen in other places. It’s that I don’t think they happen with such regularity.

Finally, while yes, I am actually close enough to read the snarky print on your bumper sticker suggesting I need to back off or do something with myself physiologically impossible at my age, it’s only because you pulled in front of me and immediately began to brake. So there.

If it gets bad enough, I guess I could always take the bus.

But … that’s an entirely different circle of hell on earth that I’d rather not revisit.

I am missing a front tooth. I used to be a bouncer.

(These two statements are completely unrelated, although both are true. It just made the opening seem much more interesting.)

In the late 90s, I hung out at a bar named Albuquerque Mining Company. I don’t remember how I became a regular there; I guess at the time it was the most welcoming bar I had found, and before long, I’d spend a number of my evenings there. I must have liked the atmosphere and the people, because I wasn’t a drinker then any more than I am now; soda or coffee were my choices.

I became friends with the cashier at the door, hanging out there and talking to him. Before long, people started showing me their IDs while I sat there on a stool, and not much longer after that, I started getting paid for it. Thursday nights were the busiest nights, and the bar’s manager, Midnyte, hired me to officially check IDs and help out around the bar.

In doing so, he opened a door and personally led me into a fascinating adventure featuring the bizarrity of humanity. Starting my very first night.

I sat on my stool checking IDs while George the ever-present cashier collected the cover. When the line died down enough to allow, I’d make a round through the various rooms of the bar. As I passed through the dance floor, the bartender waved me over- a number of patrons had told him of some sort of disturbance going on in the smaller room off to the side of the DJ booth, and he asked that I take a look.

The small room had low lights, and it seemed even darker coming from the swirling lights and strobes of the dance floor. The bed sheet that immediately hit me in the face didn’t help my eyes adjust any quicker.

After removing the sheet and adjusting to the dim lighting, I joined the circle of people staring at the center of the room, where there sat a folding chair. On the chair sat two women with one head.

No – one very large woman. In only her underclothes.

On top of her three women with one head another large woman frantically removed her clothing in flagrante delicto. I realized I held the woman’s shirt, not a bed sheet.

The alcohol servers certification class I had taken did not prepare me for this. Neither did Roadhouse.

Ignoring all others, their hands writhed across each other’s body in time to the music; they hungrily mouthed each other’s face as if they’d been smeared with honey.

“Excuse me,” I said, gingerly poking the smaller of the large women with my finger on what I hoped was not a breast.

No response.

EXCUSE ME!” I bellowed, straining to be heard above the dance beat and gelatinous sucking sounds.

Without stopping, their eyes opened and looked up at me. “YOU CAN’T DO THAT HERE!” I shouted down at them. I tossed the bed-shirt over their heads, and walked away. A few minutes later, they swept past me out the door and into the night, holding hands and giggling.

And so the spectacle began.

Another Thursday night, and again I made my rounds through the bar. Some of the rooms had themes- including the dungeon, lit only by TVs in the corners and the small light behind the bar the bartender used to read labels.

It usually smelled like leather, and wet pennies.

“Psst!”

(This was the first time in my life someone actually said “psst!” to me.)

I looked down at a round man with slicked back hair. I’m not overly tall, standing six feet, maybe 6’2” in my boots, but he only came up to my chest.

“Hey … do you have any powder?” he hissed.

I drew a blank. Powder? I had no idea what he could mean … unless!

“Why?” I asked, concerned and puzzled. “Are you chafing?”

He looked at me, confusion obvious in his close-set beetle-black eyes, then shook his neckless head, and wandered away.

(I eventually understood what he wanted, but it took me a number of years. I wasn’t yet completely without innocence.)

Most other nights were not nearly as busy as Thursdays. To bring in more business, Midnyte hired talented local boys to dance on the bar, wearing as little as the law allowed.

This included Shorter Dancer and Taller Dancer. Shorter Dancer was wiry, and wore little more than spray-on glitter. He told me once how he managed to express such high levels of ecstasy while giving lap dances.

“I close my eyes, lift my arm, try to bury my face in my armpit, and open my mouth like I’ve just stubbed my toe,” he said.

(Go ahead, try this at home. It really works!)

On one of the especially slow nights, a few other employees, dancers, and I all sat around the corner of the front bar. Brian tended bar, and for ten minutes entertained us by rolling his bar towel up in such a way that it looked like a cooked chicken, then making it dance for us. Finally, he shook out the towel, threw it back over his shoulder, and took a long drag off his cigarette.

He put a plastic salt shaker on the bar, and looked at the taller of the bar’s two dancers.

“I’ll give you 10 bucks if you can pick that up without using your hands or arms,” he said.

“Ok,” said Taller Dancer.

With the flexibility of the young, he squatted over the salt shaker, pressing it into his sweating bum crack. As the minutes passed, he repeatedly clenched, strained, and grunted, but every time, the salt shaker slid free when he tried to stand. Finally, his cheeks (and face) red, he admitted defeat and hopped down off the bar.

Shorter Dancer immediately ran over and started sniffing the salt shaker.

We all howled with laughter, and a bit of disgust. They both earned $10 that night.

Towards the end of my time there, I sat at my usual place at the bar, wearing my usual outfit – trench coat, black clothes, boots, etc. Nursing my cherry coke (Brian always gave me extra cherries), I lamented to him that, for as much of a meat market the bar was reputed to be, rarely did anyone hit on me, besides the occasional drunken lesbian.

“Wellll …” he said, drawing out the word like he didn’t want to move on to what was to be said next, “It’s because everyone’s afraid of you.”

“Afraid of me?!” I asked, incredulous, after returning from the parking lot where I had just tackled another lesbian trying to throw a cinder block through her estranged girlfriend’s windshield. (“Suck my diccckkk!!!” she screamed at me from the car window as they drove into the night.) “Why the hell would anyone be afraid of me?”

“Psst …” came from behind me.

“Oh, go away already!” I snapped.

Eventually, the late nights started taking too great a toll on my day job, and I gave up my life of breaking up fights, lugging around the occasional beer keg, dodging the talon-like fingernails of Central’s finest “ladies” of the evening (the prettiest ones were always men in drag), and putting out the occasional flaming garbage can with a fire extinguisher, as well as the occasional heated couple in the bathroom, and left my job.

Decades have passed since, and I lived in another state when the Mining Company shut its doors for good, but not before one final blowout of a party that I would have loved to attend. Even the building is gone now, torn down to make way for a modern pharmacy.

Nothing’s ever going to tear down those memories of the crazy nights of dancing chickens, dueling drag queens, and daring dancers, however. Somehow, we all managed to keep each other sane.

I have no regrets, but these days, I’m long past the age of being able to hang out at bars until the wee hours of the night and still function the next day, let alone stay awake.

I’ll leave the new adventures in the capable hands of today’s uninhibited youth. Perhaps one of them will rise to the challenge, and finally manage to pick up a salt shaker without using their hands.

Or not.

But hopefully, someone will at least try.

 

 

All dogs are special. Especially to their owners.

But this is the story of an EXTRA special dog.

I met him when he was just a pup. There’s a picture from that day, of me hugging a 20 pound yellow lab (just like my older dog, Ike) as he blissfully points his nose at the ceiling, staring into space.

Mater belonged to my coworker and friend Cory and her husband Jack. He was special in another way- it wasn’t until all of his litter mates were gone that Cory and Jack realized Mater was blind. He followed his litter mates around initially, but even on his own, it was difficult to tell he couldn’t see. He had an unerring ability to get around, only rarely bumping into objects in his way.

Mater and I bonded immediately. He also bonded with Ike. When Cory would watch Ike for me, he was Mater’s best friend, whether he wanted to be or not. Ike loved to fetch, and Mater would run right behind him until Ike picked up the thrown stick. Mater would work his way up Ike’s side, then latch on to the other end of the stick and let Ike lead him around.

Mater loved spending time with Ike; Ike exhibited a grumpy patience with him, and being with them both filled me with a quiet happiness that’s difficult to explain to someone who’s never experienced it for themselves: the comfort of the fall, the quiet simplicity of the sun, the contentedness of furry warmth, and the omnipresence of being these creatures’ utmost importance.

Cory moved on to another job, and every time I’d see her, I’d always say, “Hi! Where’s Mater?” Frequently, he was waiting outside in the truck. It was always disappointing when he wasn’t.

While Mater loved everyone, not everyone understood his handicap, or how well he usually overcame it. Shortly after arriving at a Christmas party one year when he was still very young, I watched a group of children playing with Mater by calling his name from behind a desk across the room, and then laughing hysterically when he ran face-first into it trying to reach his playmates.

I decided playtime was over, and took Mater outside for a walk in the snow. And we walked, for the next two hours, while the house echoed in the distance with party goers.

I enjoyed myself far more with him than I would have if I’d stayed in the house.

Both Mater and Ike had their share of serious close calls – Ike nearly succumbing to pancreatitis; Mater being run over by a tractor. In his fearless nature, he didn’t know he ran in front of it until it was too late. Luckily, the ground and manure he was running over was soft enough that he sunk in under the weight of the tractor tires, barely leaving enough fur sticking out to show where he lay. Onlookers were sure he was dead, but astonishingly, he suffered only a broken leg.

After a few months in a cast, he was once again bounding around the farm with no cares for any danger.

Like any other lab, Mater loved to fetch. He’d listen to the ball or stick impacting the ground, and run for the sound, sniffing around until he found the toy, and then running back to where he’d started, helped along by the calling of his name.

I tried to make his play time a little easier. I bought a toy called a “Babble ball”, a ball with an electronic cartoon voice! Mater loved his new toy, homing in on it unerringly as it called out silly doggy words for him to follow. He nuzzle it with his snout while he rolled around on his back in his happiness.

Ike was already an old man by the time Mater came along, and a few years later Ike was just too tired to go on any longer.

Mater continued to greet me with his boundless joy, even though I visited him alone now. He had gained a few more animal friends to play with, a new litter to follow.

After Ike’s death, Cory finally cleared up a mystery that puzzled me from the day I met Mater. While Cory had a heart as big and warm as the sun, Jack had the gruffness and practicality of a long time rancher, and before Mater had come along, always stated that he’d never own a dog as a pet; that a farm dog had to earn its keep, and when the time came for the dog to be put down, he’d only do it himself if he had to.

So I’d never really understood why they took Mater home, although I certainly understood why they kept him.

As it turned out, they’d had a bit of a nefarious reason. They knew Ike wasn’t going to be around forever, and had planned on giving Mater to me after Ike was gone. Ike, however, lasted far longer than anyone expected, and by then, Jack had gotten far too used to sharing his four-wheeler rides and easy chair with Mater to ever give him up. It was just as well- Mater had a job to do, working the ranch, spreading his own brand of love and happiness to everyone and everything wherever he went.

The yellow lab with the biggest heart of gold. Cory referred to him as a four-legged saint. Blind, he still  managed to see the best in everyone.

I visited Mater for one of the last times when Jack was recovering from open heart surgery. He told me before he went into the OR,  he made sure everyone knew that if anything happened to him, Mater was to come to me.

Thankfully, that was never needed.

Soon after the visit, I moved far away. Mater still remained a bright point in my world; knowing he was out there and safe enabled me to feel that quiet happiness once more, even at a distance.

A few months ago, Cory wrote to me to let me know that Mater’s health suddenly started to decline, and they’d had to make the final trip to the vet. The vet initially thought Mater was suffering from fluid build up around his heart, but in the end confirmed what all of Mater’s friends already knew – his heart really was the biggest, over twice as big as it should have been.

I’ve never gotten another dog after Ike. Now, his erstwhile replacement is gone, too, leaving my world a bit darker.

But it’s still brighter than it would have been if Mater the blind dog had never come along.

Those two silly yellow labs are playing fetch with each other again, together always in my heart’s fondest memories.

I’m very good at putting things off. For instance, I intended this to be written a month ago. I’m also working on my list of New Year’s resolutions. There’s a few holiday cards I haven’t sent yet… And filing papers … and dusting …

So many other activities and stuff to be done keep interfering with with this activity and other stuff to be done, however: housework. Brushing the cat. Spontaneously re-caulking the entire tub. Staring blankly into space.

You know, important things.

Of course, I never expect any amount of significant time to go by when I put things off. Last week, I finally got around to cleaning some of my art pens. The ink inside had dried to a crust, and it was only then that I realized I’d last used them an entire year ago.

I’m a master procrastinator.

(There should be a word for that. I should think up one. And I will. In a bit.)

I put off the things that don’t have a built-in reminder. For instance, laundry has a reminder: there’s only so long I can go without washing clothes before I’m out of clean socks to wear and can’t really justify buying another pack of socks again.

Not that I’d ever do that. Between paychecks, at least.

These types of activities have direct, immediate benefits: do laundry- fresh clothes. Clean house- clean house. Feed cat- less bleeding.

I need to develop a way to get rewards for doing the tasks I’d rather put off.

(Professional procrastinator? A pro-pro? Eh… no.)

Writing would attract my attention so much more if every sentence finished delivered a piece of candy. And yes, I know some things should be their “own reward”, that accomplishing a goal should simply deliver “satisfaction” etc., etc. However, I guarantee I’d enjoy a peanut butter cup a heck of a lot more.

I don’t think I lack in self-discipline, either. Sometimes, it’s not that I don’t want to do something, it’s just that there is so much more I’d rather be doing instead. There’s also times when I feel guilty about doing one thing when there’s other things I feel would be a better application of the time I have.

It’s hard to sit through a movie for two hours, when I could be reading for that same amount of time. And it’s hard to read for two hours when I could be playing a game instead. And it’s hard to play a game when I know there’s laundry that needs folded before the cat sheds on it because I really need to brush the cat right now but I could make cookies too.

Mmm, cookies.

(Promasternator? That … that could lead to confusion. And strange looks.)

I suppose I need to learn to focus. Try not to get distracted by all the things I want to do, but chose one thing, focus on it, stick to it, finish the task. Receive cookie. Assuming I haven’t already focused on all the cookies until they were finished as well.

Turns out I did.

Focus on baking more cookies.

(Now that’s an excellent example of an accomplishment that’s its own reward.)

Still, even once I know what tasks need to be taken care of and have decided where my focus should be, there’s also the time factor to, um, factor: there’s only so many hours in a weekend that can be dedicated to anything that isn’t baked goods.

To be more existential about it, the older I get, the more aware I am of the time I have available. I’m only going to have a finite number of weekends in the future, and I don’t know how many that will be, even. Sometimes, time isn’t so much precious as it is terrifying, especially with the faster it tends to pass with every minute that goes by – time has momentum, it’s running down hill, and no one’s bothered to put in any speed bumps.

I think the cat is also aware of the passing of time in its finite allocation, which is why he interrupts mine so frequently.

(Masterpro! No, that’s just redundant.)

I think the only way to slow the speed of time is, ironically, with accomplishments. Finishing a book, finishing a movie, each lends to a dedicated segment of time that can be easily measured and marked – I watched that movie; I read that book, and in my head I know how much time it took. And the next one doesn’t negate the last one – it just keeps building.

Writing a column, finishing a drawing, painting the garage, they’re not their own reward – the reward is that by spending time on doing something that in many ways has no reason to be done other than because I choose to do it, I’ve slowed down the passage of time by creating something that I can measure it against in terms of the achievement.

It’s not that time passed slower, but my perception of it did. Getting lost in the moment is far different than wasting a moment.

Still, it’s always going to be easier to focus on the concrete than the intangible. One cookie in the stomach is worth two in the hand … or something like that.

I’m always going to put things off.

But by being aware of the problem, I can work on finding a solution, so that eventually, I’ll be Mr. Get-to-it-and-do-it instead of a procrasti-master.

Ha! See? I knew I’d come up with something eventually. That first description though … it needs some more work.

Maybe tomorrow.